Equine photographers Larry Larson & Diana Allison share tricks of the trade
A love of horses and a keen eye have led Larry Larson of Rapid City’s Larry Larson Photography and Diana Allison of Leaving Tracks Photography and Design in Buffalo, SD, to develop their equine photography business. Each saw a need to offer a quality product.
“I had shown horses for about 25 years, first on my own and then for public in halter and Western pleasure through the ’80s and into the early ’90s. In 1991 I was showing a mare I raised, Inspired by Money by a son of Impressive named Inspirative, in AQHA competition and was on the verge of ‘burn out,'” Larson says. “There happened to be a photographer at the last show of the year in which I won the Junior Western Pleasure. I bought a copy of the photo he took.”
Larson says throughout his years of showing horses, there were rarely horse photographers at the shows and he was very happy to have a picture of his mare. However, soon after the show, he noticed the photo was blurry, taken at a bad angle and was really far away.
“That guy was put there for a reason. He determined my destiny and neither of us had a clue at the time,” Larson says. “I wanted to remain in the horse industry without actually being in the show ring, so I decided to offer horsemen quality photographs of them and their horses as well as promoting breeding operations. I had never taken photos before, so I dove in with both feet.”
Larson does not have a formal degree in photography. He attended South Dakota State University for one year, majoring in animal science. That summer, in his hometown of Mobridge, SD, he was hired to work for local veterinarians. During the 11 years he worked there he became clinic manager. He never did return to college. He was trained on the job at his current employer, Black Hills Regional Eye Institute, where he started working in 1984. Over the years he has attended three photography clinics which specialize in horses, but considers his time with Don Shugart, a photographer out of Grapevine, TX, his inspiration to master equine photography.
“I had always admired the work of Don Shugart and he offered clinics every year. The year I contacted him, he told me he decided to stop offering them as it was time for him to retire from that part of the business. I called him back in April of 1992 and wondered if he had relented. He said he had so many inquiries he decided to do one more, but it was already filled. He offered me the chance to come anyway and I spent a week in June with him and other students around the Aubrey/Pilot Point, TX area. I feel my time with Don Shugart was all I needed to know in determining what direction I wanted to go as an equine photographer. He is a master, still doing what he loves and has a phenomenal eye for capturing horses doing what they do best,” Larson says.
Allison has been around horses her entire life and admires their strength, beauty, and intelligence. She has a BFA in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design (1996).
“Just experiencing and interacting with these animals, capturing their magnificence and personalities, motivates me, as well as getting to meet new people,” Allison says. “Also, being an artist, I enjoy the post production as I’ve been able to create some inspiring digital artwork from my images.”
While both photographers agree they have had some shoots that stand out in their minds, they state each shoot has it’s own memorable moments.
“I can’t say there has been one situation that was more interesting than the other,” Larson says. “Each new project is as important as the last. After all these years, I still get butterflies in my stomach when I’m about to shoot. I just want to do the best I can for that customer, they are all very important to me.”
“Every shoot is an adventure, you never know what is going to happen,” states Allison. “Each horse is different. I must say my most favorite shoots are when the horse is at liberty. They get a chance to express themselves.”
Larson promotes using a professional photographer to help develop promotional material. Allison offers some tips for those who decide to tackle equine photography themselves.
“Make sure your horse is properly groomed and have nice tack and halter,” she says. “It’s best to have two additional people to help with your shoot, one to hold the horse and one to gain the horse’s attention. You also need to have lots of patience and remember your anxieties can affect the horse’s behavior.”
Both Larson and Allison advise making bookings for their services as early as possible. Allison asks for a minimum of two weeks and is available for both weekend bookings as well as those during weekdays. Larson does his work during spring and summer months and relies on the weather for his shoots.
“I am a ‘fair weather’ photographer and a lot of my shoots are re-arranged according to the weather. If The Weather Channel says it won’t be sunny, there is a good chance I won’t be there,” he says. “The wind is something you can deal with, the difference between a sun-filled day and an overcast day can be dramatic. The sun is the main light source, so it needs to be utilized.”
Larson’s business focuses on promotional images of horses for customers. He’s also done a majority of arena work, but prefers outdoor events utilizing the natural lighting. Allison focuses on conformational shots, under saddle, liberty, portraits with owners and artistic impressions and also does the occasional horse show.
“Conformational shots are very important for those advertising a stallion or selling their horse. It is also critical to shoot from correct angles and avoid distortion on the horse. When advertising your horse, the picture is the first impression to any prospective buyer,” Allison says.
Larson holds an annual equine photo clinic each year where students can learn positioning, lighting and other essential skills they need to work on their own. Larson says his clinic fills up fast, but having people together from different areas of the U.S. and Canada with the same interest is very exciting.
“My clinics are held at Lew and Kerry Papendick’s Highview Ranch, south of Rapid City off Highway 16, which is a phenomenal facility to work from,” Larson says.
Understanding angles, lighting, and timing are all qualities equine photographers need to have in order to have a successful business. Larson states you need to know how to mask the poor qualities and accentuate the good qualities. Allison adds that in this digital age, people think they can create their own quality images.
“What they don’t understand is the professional photographer’s eye can capture the image better, consisting of the angle, moment and composition as well as post production on the computer. In other words – an experienced eye and knowledge of equipment makes all the difference in getting quality photos.”